Army puts into effect policy of running checks on new recruits with local police Move is meant to uncover enlistees who hide arrests or other legal troubles VTC

January 21, 1998|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Concerned by increasing numbers of improper enlistments, Army recruiters have started running local police checks on all recruits before sending them to basic training.

The policy, which went into effect Jan. 2, is designed to identify a growing number of enlistees who conceal arrests or legal troubles during interviews.

Before the new regulation took hold, the Army found that too often it was catching recruits with legal troubles or police records after they arrived at induction stations or training bases.

The military will continue to run background checks on all new enlistees using the recruit's name and Social Security number, but those checks often take weeks. Because of the lag, it was often too late to catch applicants who entered the service shortly after signing an enlistment contract.

Recruiters in the past typically would conduct local police checks only if prospective soldiers acknowledged arrests or legal difficulties. Under the new rules, recruiters conduct background checks with police in the recruit's hometown.

The Army and other services typically bar felons or those with multiple arrests from enlisting.

Officials at the Army Recruiting Command at Fort Knox, Ky., say the number of trainees caught after lying to recruiters about arrest records jumped from 142 in 1995 to 239 in 1997.

Additionally, the Army last year voided the enlistment contracts of 1,028 recruits who had not revealed past offenses but were caught before entering the Army.

Under the new rules, potential recruits caught lying about misdemeanors face a six-month ban on trying to enlist again.

The Army recruited about 83,000 new soldiers in 1997, a sharp increase from previous years. The service started this year with a goal of 80,000 new recruits but recently reduced it to 75,000.

The service's recruiters, under pressure to meet monthly and yearly quotas, are working in difficult times. Unemployment rates are near all-time lows and interest in the military among teen-age males is dwindling.

But even with the rising number of improper enlistments, recruiting officials say the service is not a haven for the downtrodden as it was in the 1970s.

"The majority of kids coming into the Army are honest and want to come in," said Frank Shaffery, chief of plans and policies at U.S. Army Recruiting Command.

Shaffery believes that many who conceal arrest records do so on the advice of parents, lawyers or judges. In some cases, he said, the fraudulent enlistments involve cases where teen-agers or young adults had their arrest records cleansed by participating in "pre-trial intervention" programs instead of going to jail.

Contrary to the beliefs of many Army prospects, Shaffery said, pretrial intervention cases still show up on the background checks.

The Army has made other changes in response to the improper enlistments.

In some cases, Shaffery said, it would have been possible for a recruit with numerous arrests but no convictions to wind up in the Army.

Now, such cases must be reviewed by a commissioned officer to determine whether the recruit has the proper moral character to enter the Army.

"We want to catch the person who, by concealing information, is allowed to come into the military and be disruptive," Shaffery said.

Pub Date: 1/21/98

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